National Nuclear Security Administration

NNSA initiative is building a diverse STEM workforce for the future

May 3, 2019

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Participants at the 2019 MSIPP Technical Meeting in El Paso, Texas.
Participants at the 2019 MSIPP Technical Meeting in El Paso, Texas.

Nuclear security is a complex mission with a need for diverse thought leadership. The Minority Serving Institutions Partnership Program (MSIPP) is one way NNSA is building an inclusive, engaged, and highly technical workforce in the fields of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

MSIPP currently provides support to historically black colleges and universities, tribal colleges and universities, and Hispanic serving institutions by introducing student enrichment and development activities that ensure academic success and the ability to make a smooth transition into the STEM workforce.

Each year, NNSA facilitates a gathering of all Minority Servicing Institutions to discuss the program and way ahead. The theme of this year’s event was “MSIPP: From Curriculum to Career.” The University of Texas at El Paso hosted this year’s three-day technical meeting, which showcased the successes participants have had in the past year and provided a glimpse of the program’s future.

Renaissance Learner students talk about problem solving during Field Day at Claflin University.
Renaissance Learner students talk about problem solving during Field Day at Claflin University.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to further the important causes that are central to MSIPP – reaching out to underserved segments of society to level the playing field and promote diversity in our broad STEM environment,” said Frank Lowery, NNSA’s Associate Administrator for Management and Budget. 

MSIPP is comprised of consortium-based teams that investigate emerging fields like advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. Participating consortia shared their successes, lessons learned and identified strategies for collaborating across the broader group. Additionally, students presented research projects that showed how NNSA has supported their budding careers and also learned about exciting internship and fellowship opportunities available within the agency. 

One attendee with lots to share was Dr. Deidra J. Morrison Wells of Claflin University in central South Carolina. An assistant professor of computer science, Wells and her colleagues work to engage local K-12 rural student populations. Their mission: To excite them about STEM careers and promote the Consortium Enabling Cybersecurity Opportunities and Research at Claflin. The program organizes annual Fall Code Days and Spring Hackathons to introduce students to programming, web, and cybersecurity challenges.

“We’ve established several programs to investigate methods that will increase the interest in computing and cybersecurity academic programs and careers among minority elementary, middle, and high school students, as well as increase preparedness for academic programs and training opportunities,” Wells said. “It’s incredibly rewarding to see that spark in a student’s eye when they’re excited about what they’re learning.”

Sixth-grade Renaissance Learner student teams at Claflin University in South Carolina.
Sixth-grade Renaissance Learner student teams at Claflin University in South Carolina.

Notable successes at Claflin include its new Cyber Learning partnership with the Renaissance Learners program. Still in its first year, the partnership targets a gifted and talented group of sixth-graders at a local school who demonstrate leadership abilities. The program has resulted in marked increases in student interest in computing and cybersecurity, Wells said. Claflin plans to expand the program.

Likewise, NNSA is expanding MSIPP. Three new consortia were awarded funding in 2018: the Partnership for Research and Education Consortium in Ceramics and Polymers; the Consortium for High Energy Density Science; and the Pipeline Development of Skilled Workforce in STEM through Advanced Manufacturing.

Since 2015, MSIPP has provided over 350 internships throughout the Nuclear Security Enterprise. Visit our website to learn more about opportunities at NNSA.